Following an open letter published in the New York Times last spring, Carl Siciliano, an advocate for the homeless, again wrote to Pope Francis on behalf of the LGBT youth for whom he provides care.
Siciliano heads the Ali Forney Center in New York, a social service agency helps young LGBT people experiencing homelessness. Often, they end up on the street because religious parents’ rejection of them. This second letter repeats the invitation to dialogue, this time during the Pope Francis’ visit to New York in September. He also encouraged the pope to reconsider the church’s teachings on homosexuality because of the harm they cause. The Huffington Post reported that Siciliano wrote to the pontiff:
“My hope has been strengthened by learning that you will come to New York City this September as a prelude to your participation in the World Conference of Families. What a remarkable opportunity for your to call on families to love and cherish their LGBT children. I hope that such a call might be inspired by your listening with compassion to our youths tell of being driven from their homes by parents who believe that being LGBT made them sinful and evil; that witnessing their suffering would awaken you to the terrible harm caused by religious condemnation of homosexuality.”
Of between 320,000 and 400,000 LGBT youth who are homeless in the United States each year, approximately 40 percent have faced family rejection as the cause of their homelessness. A Rolling Stone article last fall explored this troubling reality through the lens of several teens’ stories, which you can read about here. LGBT youth from religious households are eight times more likely than their heterosexual peers to be thrown out. Knowing this reality, Siciliano asked the pope:
“I hope that you might listen with compassion to our youths tell of the abuse they suffered in their homes. Some youths tell of being beaten or strangled by parents. Others suffered psychological torment; some tell of being forced to recite condemnatory biblical passages late into the night, others tell of their parents saying that God was disgusted by them, that they were an abomination.”
Life on the streets and in shelters is problematic as well, given the elevated rates of sex work, mental health problems, substance abuse, and self-harm these youths experience. Taken in full, this creates in Siciliano a “horror at how the mesage of God’s merciful love in the Gospels has been deformed by religious hostility towards LGBT people” when parents “sacrifice their children” for religious beliefs.
Siciliano concludes by inviting Pope Francis to visit the Ali Forney Center and meet the homeless LGBT youths who live there, “for none are poorer, more abused, more cast aside, more deprived of love than our homeless LGBT youths.” While this visit is unlikely, Pope Francis is also known to surprise the world with his gestures of compassion.
If nothing else, Siciliano’s letters and work should raise the profile of this devastating issue and stir the church’s response. Addressing the suffering of these youth requires no discussion of homosexuality or gender identity beyond loving each child a person created in God’s image. In addition, the injustices inflicted against them by members of our church community who profess belief in Christ, must be ended. The letter is also a reminder for all of us to invite church leaders into our lives to “come and see” the suffering and the goodness of LGBT people’s lives.
For more information on homeless LGBT youth and what you can do to help, visit Bonding 2.0‘s post “How Can the Catholic Community Support LGBT Homeless Youth?”
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry